Wylene Dunbar, Author . Harcourt $24 (319p) ISBN 978-0-15-101015-8

Raised in Kansas by a family of dead people, the protagonist of this blackly humorous, cerebral novel relies on philosophy to make sense of her odd predicament. Oz's mother died in childbirth—10 years before Oz was conceived. Her sister died as a young child. Only her father remained, hovering between life and death until she was 10 years old. In Oz's experience, dead people move through the world looking and acting much the same as live people but lacking human emotions. The present action of the novel unfolds as the adult Oz oversees the exhumation of the grave of Winfield Evan Stark, the man who saved her from her life among the dead and whose body might be missing. Only Oz understands that if it is, it might be because he is using it. While she waits for the gravediggers to do their work, Oz recounts for the reader her struggles to learn to feel and to deal with the consequences of her feelings. The story works best on a metaphorical level with understated humor deriving from ironic double meanings: "There are, you see, more corpses in academia than anywhere else you might name." Oz's day-to-day challenges as a student and a professor in Oxford, Miss., coping with unsatisfactory love affairs and seeking solace with animals are less compelling than her observations of how the waking dead differ from the living. Despite the fantasy of her premise, Dunbar (Margaret Cape ) presents her story with straight-faced candor, informed by a philosopher's grasp of logic (both the author and narrator are trained philosophers). The novel's refusal to acknowledge that the phenomenon recounted might be impossible to believe and the accumulation of realistic detail make this an uncannily convincing evocation of death and its counterpart, life. Agent, Philip Spitzer. (June)

Reviewed on: 04/12/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-15-603190-5
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